Tamara Levitz
McGill University

  1. June 21, 1913 was a warm summer day in Hellerau, a small pre-planned garden city to the north of Dresden. As evening fell, the sun began to cast shadows over the community Festshalle, in front of which gatheredHellerau Festspielhaus “throngs of people who had journeyed from places all over the earth where art was loved and cherished” (Sinclair 1).1 As they shuffled through the monumental entrance, some of the elegant visitors glanced up at “Dalcroze’s eye”: the comforting yin-yang symbol hung above the portal and was still easily discernable in the half obscurity created by the setting sun (Bie 369).2 The symbol’s flowing, simple black and white curves reminded visitors of the moral goals of the pedagogical province they were entering, and its shared cultural ideals of an organic community based on rhythm, harmony, graciousness, and simplicity.3 front view of the Festhalle in Hellerau displaying the yin-yang symbol of "Dalcroze's Eye" on the pedimentVisitors may have slid their hands briefly along the cold, “naked” face of the noble building while passing like toy soldiers through the majestic porticos and into the foyer, where bustling flea market stalls were set up selling the various products of Hellerau’s artists and craftsmen (Giertz 164).4 Glancing perhaps at the goods for sale, they would have eventually wandered on into the vast, rectangular, main hall, where they would have been met by a startling, glowing light.5 Never before had these visitors entered a room like this, which was not artificially lit, but rather acted itself as a lighting body, diffusing light equally in every direction, recreating what seemed like natural daylight.6 Described as “objective, neither cold, nor hot, but rather of a marvelously living consistency … with an imperceptible dynamism” (Appia 206; original), interior of Hellerau theaterthis light created a “milky ambiance” or “elysian atmosphere,” and caused visitors to feel as if the “fresh air of the Greek sky [had been technically transposed] into the northern night” (Appia 212; original). Puzzled by the lack of an elevated stage, and curious as to why the lights were not dimming, the audience moved towards the steep risers arranged at one end of the room “as in a harsh amphitheater, with no balconies or boxes” (Marsop 373; original). The show was about to begin.

  2. The illustrious public that made their way to Hellerau on that fateful night in June 1912 had come to see Emile Jaques-Dalcroze’s and Adolphe Appia’s staging of Gluck’s Orpheus und Eurydice. Performed by students of the Dalcroze Bildungsanstalt, this production was created for Hellerau’s second annual fêtes scolaires.7 That evening, the young gymnasts would first display exercises, and then give exterior form to the emotions and ideas contained in the rhythms of Gluck’s music by translating these rhythms into corporeal movement. Their performance realized the dream professed by Wagner and elaborated by Nietzsche: a revival of ancient Greek tragedy in modern times through a synthesis of the arts according to the principle of Greek orchestique.8 The production they staged that night represents one of the first significant attempts in the twentieth century to create a dramatic stage work by visualizing music through bodily movement. Jaques-Dalcroze called this union of music and movement plastique animée. He revealed his understanding of this practice through the plot of Gluck’s opera, focusing upon the relationship between Orpheus, the mythical musician, and Eurydice, whom Jacques-Dalcroze stylized into an embodiment of the principle of human movement. Drawing upon recognizable bodily images with broad cultural significance for his time, Jaques-Dalcroze told the story of Orpheus und Eurydice as an attempt to transcend the limitations of their own performative activities in order to serve a musical idea, thereby fulfilling the fundamental requirement of plastique animée. Whereas Eurydice experienced an Apollonian transformation in which her dancing body dissolved into pure light, Orpheus the musician failed to transcend, remaining fixed in an unhealthy, static state linked visually in the opera to Freud’s theory of sexual repression. Orpheus and Eurydice could not unite because her death and absence were necessary aesthetic criteria for plastique animée. The failure of their love opened up a conflict of emotion and form that was to haunt twentieth–century neoclassicism.

  3. Emile Jaques-Dalcroze and Adolphe Appia carefully chose Hellerau as the location for their theatrical and social project. Conceived within the spirit of social reform that inspired the nineteenth–century English garden city and motivated the German Gartenstadtbewegung, Hellerau was the brain child of Karl Schmitt, one of the co-founders (with Frederic Nauman) of the German Werkbund. In 1907, Schmitt decided to build a factory outside of Dresden for the 1200 workers of his Dresdener Werkstätte für Handwerkkunst or Deutsche Werkstätte, which produced furniture and utensils of a simple, beautifully crafted, yet functional style. Concerned with the overcrowded, cramped, and dirty living conditions for workers in most major German cities, Schmitt planned to rent to his own workers affordable family homes with gardens in a green and calm surrounding. He designed Hellerau as a community that would solve social, economic, cultural, and artistic problems, and function as a unified whole; Schmitt thus planned stores, post offices, schools, a sanatorium, villas, and playgrounds.9 The architect Richard Riemerschmidt placed great emphasis on creating an aesthetically pleasing living space and consequently designed the entire city in a unified architectural style in order visually symbolize its communal ideal (Arnold 329–52).10 Like the everyday objects produced in its factories, the simple, proportional buildings in Hellerau encouraged “new life discipline and manners” by being both functional and beautiful at the same time (Arnold 334–5; original).

  4. From the beginning, Karl Schmitt and his associates planned Hellerau as more than just another nice place to live. They believed that its residents would be able to profit both morally and physically from their carefully planned, organic environment by involving themselves in communal cultural activity.11 To this end, Schmitt’s close friend Wolfgang Dohrn, the general secretary of the Werkbund, envisioned the construction of a central house, a symbol for the whole community:

    … a house, not for singles or familes to live in, but rather for all, not for learning and becoming more intelligent, but rather for enjoyment, not for praying according to some religious denomination, but rather for Andacht and inner experience. What I mean is, neither a school, museum, church, concert hall or auditorium! Something of all of these, but also something else too! (Dohrn 27–8; original)

    Volksheime or maisons du peuple existed all over Europe at the turn of the century, especially in Belgium, as central communal buildings that housed organized programs designed to ensure the workers’ well-being. Heinrich Tessenow designed the Volksheim in Hellerau as more of a Wagnerian Festspielhaus, but in the style of primitive classicism. Built in 1911–12 for a sum of 1,450,000 Marks, Tessenow’s Festspielhaus dominated the entire community, its severe doric columns exuding an Apollonian spirit that set the tone for the events staged within its walls (Arnold 353). Its stark, archaic functionalism even sparked debate and controversy in the German architectural community and inspired the young Charles-Edouard Jeanneret (Le Corbusier). Tessenow’s building met with the most effusive praise from the artists for whom it was designed. Wolfgang Dohrn invited Emile Jaques-Dalcroze and Adolphe Appia to Hellerau in the fall of 1910 in order to establish a school of rhythmic gymnastics; both men consequently played an active part in the Festspielhaus’s design. In a letter to Wolfgang Dohrn, Jaques-Dalcroze marveled at how Tessenow so aptly realized the social vision inherent in their music pedagogical project: “In their simplicity and harmony the style of [Tessenow’s] buildings match perfectly the style of rhythmic movement of the body. This is very important for this particular genre of staging” (Appia 97; original). In a separate letter to Jaques-Dalcroze, Appia agreed: Tessonow had perfectly understood that “the architecture of the [main] building had to disappear behind the activity you [Jaques-Dalcroze] wanted to give birth to there” (97; original).

  5. Jaques-Dalcroze opened his Bildungsanstalt in Hellerau in the fall of 1911, working at first in temporary quarters in Dresden before moving into Tessenow’s completed building in the fall of 1912. With missionary zeal, he set about realizing his project: creating “organic life,” and “harmonizing the country and its inhabitants with a special education” based on “physical and moral hygiene,” thereby “elevating rhythm to the level of a social institution” (Appia 96–7; original). In the spirit of Hellerau, Jaques-Dalcroze offered the workers’ children free lessons in the Bildungsanstalt and opened its doors to an international roster of students. The curriculum rested on the three pillars of solfège, improvisation, and gymnastique rythmique, (eurythmics or rhythmic gymnastics), and included no instrumental instruction.12 This was more than a mere music school, however. In his pedagogical program, Jaques-Dalcroze hoped to educate through music the new people who would populate the ideally functioning society of Hellerau. Following in Goethe’s and Nietzsche’s spirits, his supporters envisioned that his school would be the first step in “founding the state upon music” (Seidl 16; original).

  6. The yearly activities of the Bildungsanstalt in Hellerau culminated in annual “fêtes d’école” or “fêtes scolaires,” in which Jaques-Dalcroze displayed the results of his music pedagogical program. His supporters viewed these events as a modern day counterpart to the folk festivals and games of ancient Greece, as occasions during which the audience participated in a form of public confession:

    Everybody that comes must let themselves become imbued with the rhythmic experiences, must inwardly process them in the elevated atmosphere of festive bonding …. Everybody who comes must see what is performed as something they have experienced themselves, they must accept the bodies they see as a symbolization of their own spiritual processes, the images before them as an expression of their own thoughts and desires. In this manner, everybody will contribute to the success of the festival and serve in the right manner the work that has begun. (Horneffer 14; original)

    Jaques-Dalcroze hoped these events would inspire “a sense of solidarity that will reinforce reciprocal artistic desires between the students and the spectators” (Appia 114; original). With Adolphe Appia, Jaques-Dalcroze believed the public should become “a true collaborator of the symbolic and poetic spectacles,” thereby increasing their aesthetic sensibilities and artistic sense (Jacques-Dalcroze, Le Rythme 94; original). Supporters of Hellerau believed that Jaques-Dalcroze’s festival could even supersede Wagner’s Bayreuth in its effectiveness because it concentrated upon simple, natural, easily understandable art for the people (Seidl 16–17). Two hundred and fifty people attended the first fêtes from 28 June to 11 July 1912, which included class demonstrations of rhythmic exercises, Jaques-Dalcroze’s pantomime Echo et Narcisse, a visualization of Mendelssohn’s Prelude and Fugue in E Minor, Bach’s Invention and Fugue in C Minor from Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, and the opening scene of Act II from Gluck’s Orpheus. Even more visitors made the pilgrimage to Hellerau for the second annual festival from 21 to 28 June 1913, in which 400 students performed exercises, and which also included the complete staging of Orpheus und Eurydice.

  7. Gluck’s neoclassicist Orpheus und Eurydice provided an ideal framework for Jaques-Dalcroze’s and Adolphe Appia’s spiritual revolution. Although Gluck’s works had not been performed regularly in Germany, the bicentennial in 1914 would change all that: Hermann Abert founded the Gluck-Jahrbuch and Gluck Gesellschaft, and even published the original 1764 score of the Viennese Orpheus und Eurydice in the Denkmäler der Tonkunst in Österreich, resulting in a flurry of productions across Europe.13 Perhaps the greatest impetus for the Gluck revival came not from musicology or state-sponsored celebrations, however, but from modern dance. It is not a coincidence that Isadora Duncan worked on Gluck’s operas for over fifteen years of her life (from 1900 to 1915), always returning to revise them and broaden their scope. She finally presented Orpheus und Eurydice as a drama-music-dance with chorus and vocal soloist during her month-long Dionysion season at the Century Opera House in New York, April 1915 (Daly 146–50). Composed within the context of the eighteenth–century dance reforms of Noverre and Angiolini (each of whom collaborated with Gluck), these operas not only contained extensive sections suitable for dance, but also embodied the classicist aesthetic admired by both Duncan and Jaques-Dalcroze. Angiolini’s reforms even attracted some musicological attention in 1913, especially after the discovery of the score to Don Juan in Vienna’s Hofbibliothek.14

  8. Many critics, including Karl Storck, welcomed Jaques-Dalcroze’s attention to Gluck’s music, because as “form moved by tones” (“tönend bewegte Form” in Edward Hanslick’s sense), Gluck’s music resulted from the inner movements of its parts and was thus ideally suited for “plastic embodiment.” By choosing such music, Jaques-Dalcroze avoided the error committed by Isadora Duncan and others: that of dancing to program music, Ausdrucksmusik, or music that suggests inner psychological or spiritual worlds that can not be realized visually or translated physically in movement (Storck 29–30).15 As an aristocrat who avoided any “concession to the taste of the masses,” Gluck could also serve as a moral authority in the present, according to Hermann Abert and other Gluck scholars (Abert, “Zum Geleit” 2; original). Gluck’s “pure” music had the capacity to educate the masses and draw them away from their degenerate interest in “effortless pleasure” and “feeling” (Abert, “Zum Geleit” 1, 3; original).

  9. In the highly nationalistic pre-War period, the resurgence of interest in Gluck’s Orpheus brought with it—not surprisingly—intense debates over the relative merits of the opera’s original Viennese and later Parisian versions. By the late nineteenth century, neither of these versions survived in the repertory; in their place emerged a variety of hybrid mixtures, most of which were influenced by Berlioz’s well-known amalgamation from 1866.16 In November 1913, however, Hermann Abert organized a performance of Orpheus in Lauchstadt based on his publication of the original Viennese score, designating Orpheus as a baritone for the first time in modern German operatic history. This historically informed production used Gluck’s original orchestration, a cembalo basso continuo, and historical sets evoking eighteenth–century tastes (Niedecken-Gebhard 296–7). Abert’s Viennese Orpheus, following in the wake of Hellerau, brought into focus a critical evaluation of the first two versions, especially in terms of their varying uses of dance—the elaborated feature of the Parisian score that most twentieth–century critics (whether in 1913 or 1999) reject as a sign of Gluck’s embarrassing concession to popular French taste. The emotions raised by the debate reflected deep anxieties about how the work was to function in the construction of national cultural identity. Whereas critics could easily align the Viennese Orpheus with a Wagnerian operatic aesthetic and thus justify Gluck’s place in the German pantheon, they could not do so with the Parisian version, and thus felt awkward about this work, which used music theatrically in a manner long considered foreign to German tastes.

  10. Jaques-Dalcroze concerned himself little with the authenticity or historical accuracy of his production of Gluck’s Orpheus in Hellerau, much to the disappointment of his critics. Departing from the standard Peters edition of the opera available at the time, he modified form, instrumentation, and performance practice at will, even further downplaying the importance of Gluck’s music by concentrating almost exclusively on its staging, to the detriment of the actual musical performance. His decision to stage the work in the first place hardly resulted from extended critical reflection on its history, but rather from something like a whim. Appalled by productions in Mézière and St. Petersburg, Jaques-Dalcroze decided to direct the opera himself so that the staging, lighting, and movement would better realize visually the rhythms of Gluck’s music (Stadler 440).17 By placing the large portion of the choir and singers behind the scene and having his gymnasts perform their plastique animée in front of curtains flooded with expressive light, Jaques-Dalcroze hoped to recreate the conditions and experience of Greek orchestique as the basis of tragedy. His production and modification of Gluck’s score highlighted bodily movement even further, not only by emphasizing specific dance numbers within the opera, but also by remodeling the story in order to shift his audiences’s attention away from the sonoric beauty of Orpheus’s song to the visual expressiveness and spiritual transcendence of Eurydice’s dance.

  11. Although much has been written about Orpheus’s mythical status as a musician, very little has been said about Eurydice’s dance, even though her physicality, presence, and movement lie at the very root of the Orpheus story. From the moment she is first described in Virgil’s Georgica and Ovid’s Metamorphoses as running with the other nymphs, Eurydice is in constant movement, experiencing life in an expressively sensual and physical fashion. She has very little memory, an undefined history, and difficulty in feeling the complex emotions required for her to grasp abstract concepts. She seems to remember Orpheus only when she sees him—for example, at the moment when he returns to hell to retrieve her (Krieger 53). The story of the opera seems predicated not on her ability to engage in conversation, but rather on her talent to move in a manner that attracts Orpheus’s gaze. Calzibigi accentuated this historical aspect of Eurydice’s character in the libretto he wrote for Gluck in 1764. Gluck then translated Eurydice’s physicality into musical terms by giving her more dance music (an aspect of the opera that he later emphasized in its later Parisian version). In their production in Hellerau, Jaques-Dalcroze and Appia modified Gluck’s Orpheus even further, emphasizing the role of Eurydice’s dance by casting a student gymnast as Eurydice instead of a professional singer. By shifting attention away from the listening experience of the music towards its visualization, Jaques-Dalcroze and Appia allowed Eurydice’s transcendent movement to replace Orpheus’s song as the focus of the opera’s aesthetic interest.

1  2   3   Works Cited   Endnotes



In the Footsteps of Eurydice

Ubiquitous Listening

Draughon and Knapp:
Mahler and the Crisis of Jewish Identity

Photo Essay

Review Essay

Allen Forte



Designed by Gordon Haramaki